SANTA ANA — In a move that surprised the election fraud trial of GOP aide Rhonda Carmony, decoy Democrat Laurie Campbell told the court Tuesday that she is balking at testifying because she fears telling the truth will lead to her prosecution.
Campbell told Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno that the district attorney's office is "dangling invisible handcuffs over my head" and that her attorney has been unable to "accomplish any assurances that I would not go to jail," despite an agreement made with prosecutors in December 1995.
The judge gave Campbell, a key witness in the case, until this morning to decide whether she wanted to invoke her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and not testify.
"You are subject to prosecution" and have a right not to testify, Briseno told her during a hearing called at her request. The judge said she may have broken several laws in 1995 when GOP aides recruited her to be a spoiler candidate in a Republican scheme to splinter the Democratic vote during a special election in November 1995.
Creighton Laz, attorney for Carmony, protested the possibility that Campbell would not testify. "I've got no defense without Laurie Campbell," he said.
Briseno said the case would go on regardless of Campbell's decision.
Carmony, 27, is charged with three felonies: falsely making a nominating petition, falsely filing a nominating petition and conspiring to falsely file a nominating petition.
Prosecutors allege that Carmony persuaded other Republican activists to gather voters' signatures on Campbell's nominating petitions, knowing that the candidate would be called upon to sign the petition as its circulator and swear that she collected the signatures herself. While it is not against the law to recruit a decoy candidate, it is illegal to falsify nominating petitions or to file falsified ones.
Also in court Tuesday, the former executive director of what once was the state's most powerful conservative political action committee testified that she and her staff pressured top Orange County Republicans to recruit a second Democrat in the winner-take-all special election to recall and replace then-Assemblywoman Doris Allen.
Danielle Madison, executive director of the California Independent Political Action Committee, testified that she spoke with Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) and his chief aide, Jeff Flint, on the eve of the candidate filing deadline to "voice the concerns" of the PAC.
"We remain concerned that if the Republicans split the vote and the Democrats come into this seat heavily for [Democrat Linda Moulton] Patterson, we could lose the seat to the Democrats," a PAC document read in court said.
The document, which Madison described as staff memo to the PAC's eight wealthy members, acknowledged that "with much effort, we were able to get 'our' Democrat filed at the last minute and to narrow the Republican field to four candidates."
But the high drama in court Tuesday focused on what Campbell's decision would mean for Carmony's defense.
In his opening argument, Laz told the jury that Campbell would exonerate Carmony by testifying that it was GOP aide Jeff Gibson who "told me what to do . . . and where to sign" when the three sat together in Campbell's car a few minutes before the filing deadline for candidates in the 1995 election.
Laz said that without Campbell he cannot refute testimony from Gibson, who pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor for his role in the election fraud. Gibson implicated Carmony in his statement to the court at the time and later before the grand jury that indicted Carmony last year.
"Jeff Gibson is going to say Rhonda Carmony told [Campbell] to sign" the nomination papers that were circulated by the GOP aides secretly for her, and "Laurie Campbell is going to say, 'No,' " that is not what happened, Laz said.
Prosecutors are expected to counter such testimony by presenting Campbell's grand jury testimony last year as well as statements she made to investigators prior to that. In those appearances, Campbell said Carmony sat in the back seat of the car, filled in blanks on the nomination forms and passed around the papers while Campbell was signing them.
Campbell's 1995 agreement with prosecutors requires her to "cooperate fully and truthfully," according to the document. In exchange, she would only face prosecution for a misdemeanor, the agreement said.
"She agreed to cooperate fully and truthfully, including interviews and testimony," said Assistant Dist. Atty. Brent Romney. "We assume she has done that and expect she will continue to do that."
Romney said prosecutors have the option of prosecuting Campbell if she doesn't testify.
The defense team said Campbell wants to recant testimony implicating Carmony, but she fears she will be prosecuted for it.